Highway 16 from Prince George to Prince Rupert has been the focus of political debate about safety and transportation options for remote communities.

B.C. VIEWS: Myths of the Highway of Tears

Media narrative of serial killers on Highway 16 insists more bus service and a national enquiry would solve deep-seated social problems

VICTORIA – The scandal of the week at the B.C. legislature is what could be termed “delete-gate.”

Primarily, it revolves around 36 pages of government emails that the NDP opposition has been trying for a year to get under freedom of information legislation. They relate to a series of meetings between transportation ministry bureaucrats and remote communities along Highway 16, between Prince George and Prince Rupert.

If you want all of the accusations about government secrecy and alleged cover-ups, I invite you to read “Access Denied,” the latest report of the Information and Privacy Commissioner here, and transcripts of question period in the legislature this week.

What you won’t find there is much discussion of the actual problem, which is a shortage of safe and practical transportation options in and out of these communities, most of which are federally funded aboriginal reserves far from the region’s only highway.

What we have seen for decades is a dramatic media narrative about one or more serial killers preying on vulnerable women hitch-hiking along what is now known world-wide as the Highway of Tears.

The Wikipedia entry for Highway of Tears gives a sense of the credibility of this narrative. It begins with the unsolved murder of Gloria Moody, last seen leaving a bar in Williams Lake in 1969. That’s a long way from Highway 16.

Then there was Monica Jack, killed in 1978. DNA technology resulted in a charge finally being laid last year against a known serial rapist. This was even further away, near Merritt, and she was a 12-year-old riding her bike.

Other cases involve street prostitution in and around Prince George, an urban hub for a large aboriginal population similar to Edmonton, Regina and Winnipeg.

Discussion in Victoria focuses on urban notions of increased transit, in places where existing service may be under-used. Nationally, the narrative is that deep-seated social problems within aboriginal communities would somehow be solved by a lawyer-heavy judicial inquiry that looks only at tragedies involving women.

If you drive Highway 16 today, you will see fading billboards pleading for information on the disappearance of Madison Scott. She was last seen in the early hours of May 28, 2011, after a grad party in the woods outside Vanderhoof. Her truck and tent were still there. Again, nothing to do with hitch-hiking, but at least it was near Highway 16.

Here’s something else you won’t often hear in the Highway of Tears melodrama. There is commercial bus service on Highway 16, although Greyhound reduced frequency in 2013 as it struggles with low ridership and high costs.

BC Transit also operates bus service to some remote communities like Kispiox and Gitsegukla, connecting them south to Smithers. But BC Transit requires local governments and riders to cover about half the cost. Indian Act reserves don’t pay.

North Coast MLA Jennifer Rice has noted that what people in remote communities ask for is a way to get back and forth for shopping and medical appointments.

Yes, shopping is an important need, as those who live in remote areas can tell you. And Northern Health already runs a bus service for remote residents who need medical care.

Rice’s observations at least move us toward practical solutions, although most of her effort seems directed towards political blame.

I hope the infamous 36 pages of emails are eventually released, since they were not deleted but rather excluded from release. They may bring the discussion back to the actual public service issue, which is what realistic transportation options exist for these communities.

Tom Fletcher is legislature reporter and columnist for Black Press. Twitter: @tomfletcherbc

 

Just Posted

Reality show filming in South Okanagan is looking for participants

A real estate reality show is looking for homeowners and realtors to participate

Slackcountry Cup competitors shred the unshredded on Okanagan ski hill

The fifth year of the competition on the slopes of Baldy Mountain is this weekend.

Okanagan-Shuswap weather: Sunny days ahead

It’s beginning to feel like spring in Kelowna

Okanagan Cat Coalition asks for help from community

The coalition has lost over half its inventory of traps

Temperatures on the rise for the Okanagan Valley

Okanagan-Shuswap weekday weather update

Horvat scores 16 seconds into OT as Canucks beat Blackhawks 3-2

Pettersson sets rookie scoring record for Vancouver

No injuries, pollution in Vancouver Harbour ship collision: Transport Canada

Transportation Safety Board says it has deployed a team of investigators look into the incident

Budget 2019: Five things to watch for in the Liberals’ final fiscal blueprint

Finance Minister Bill Morneau will release the Trudeau government’s final budget on Tuesday

New concussion guidelines launched for Canada’s Olympians, Paralympians

The guidelines will be in effect at this summer’s Pan American, Parapan American Games in Lima, Peru

Kelowna DJs organize own shows to fill gap in music scene

The DJs wanted to create somewhere people could enjoy their music safely

In Photos: Classic snowmobiles pushed to their limits in fun races

The Burner in Malakwa served as the venue for races show cases older sleds

Alphonso Davies doubtful for Canada game against French Guiana in Vancouver

Canada will be without injured captain Scott Arfield and veteran Will Johnson

Most Read